Life in Hilo- Drivers

As I have already written this week, my experience at the University of Hawaii at Hilo was a unique one– from an isolation standpoint. My one semester contract brought me a couple of things– good teaching evaluations, a recommendation from my chair, and five months listening to Coqui frogs at night. They sound more like birds than frogs. My best friend on the island was probably the Gecko that visited me in my apartment from time to time. Oddly enough, he never once reminded me that I could save “15 percent or more on car insurance.”

I was almost hit by cars at least three times crossing the street on a green light in the crosswalk. People will swing around on a left hand turn, sometimes on a right hand turn, and try to beat you to the spot or past the spot. I wanted to know where in the world they thought they were going so fast– there’s nowhere to go, it’s an island, you’re going to hit the water in a few minutes, slow down. So I’m in Subway Sandwiches and I ask a police officer, “Officer, what’s the deal here? Why are the drivers so bad?” He tells me, ” We are trying to educate people on driving.” Isn’t that the job of the DMV, before they issue a license? One driver almost hit me crossing near 7-11, which happened to be my nighttime Hilo delicacy, and so I asked the guy where he learned to drive and pointed him in the direction of the DMV. He got all excited and started jumping up and down yelling at me on the 7-11 grass. I told him a few things, questioning his capacity to operate a motor vehicle, and then we went in separate directions. But it was after that incident that I realized, hey, maybe they are so bored on the island that there is a significant drug problem, which leads to really crazy drivers. Not every driver in Hilo is like that, but there were definitely enough insane ones to never take for granted safe passage in a crosswalk on a green light. I’m sure there is a lot information on the web about this topic. A quick google search revealed several reports indicating Hawaii as having the worst drivers in the U.S. I definitely saw it first hand. I was one of the few pedestrians. Everyone, except some students, drives– and there are a lot of large vehicles too– SUVs and trucks. One would think– with climate change and rising sea levels and the threat to islands– that they would be a little more environmental there! They don’t have curbside recycling. Let’s put it this way, there is a professor there that teaches environmentalism that drives some big gas guzzling machine– SUV or Jeep of the larger variety–  not too much consistency between word and deed.

I was getting food at Café 100 and the cashier told me her colleague got hit crossing the street and suffered a broken leg. The cashier at Longs told me that they don’t use the crosswalk because it is safer to cross in the middle of the street. So it wasn’t just me. Speaking of Café 100, which is a much lauded outdoor restaurant in town, it has okay Hawaiian food– chicken or beef on rice soaked in a heavy sauce (so you may require Alka-Seltzer after it)– but their hamburgers are like no hamburger that I’ve eaten before. Let’s put it this way, if you take a regular semi-dry hamburger patty and put it on a table with a plain bun and bottles of ketchup and mustard, and tell a four year old to assemble it– that’s what a Café 100 hamburger will be– burger, bun, mustard– smashed. I took a bite and looked at it and thought what is that. That is not taking pride in your work. Whether you are assembling an architectural wonder of the world or a hamburger, take pride in your work– put some lettuce and tomatoes and onions in it. Don’t smash it. It wasn’t the value menu, it was a full priced hamburger. I said to myself, “wow, that’s something.”  But I digress.  Anyway, for all the countries and U.S. states I have visited, I give Hilo, Hawaii the Worst Drivers in the World Award (according to my experiences) and Café 100 the Worst Hamburger Award.

More on Hawaii later….to be continued.

Reflections on teaching in Hawaii

I was a lecturer in International Relations at UHH in Spring of 2014 on a one semester contract.

What I liked about teaching at the University of Hawaii at Hilo (UHH)?

I loved sharing ideas and information, and hopefully inspiring some students.

The most rewarding part of the experience?

It was definitely having some students tell me at the end of the semester that I influenced the way they thought about the world. I really cared about inspiring and informing my students. The small administrative staff in my division was helpful and friendly. I appreciated that. The secretary, if that is the right title (it might not be), was always friendly and it was nice to go check my office box and say hello.

The most enraging moment of my experience?

There is only one moment that I can say really got me angry, and that would be when I asked mid-semester if the department had any faculty meetings and was told that I “wasn’t part of the faculty,” even though I had a faculty card and was officially full time. The previous school I worked at and many other colleges and universities invite adjuncts to faculty meetings, however this department, although it is small, did not. I couldn’t believe it, with all the work I was putting in to do my job, to actually be told that I wasn’t part of the faculty. Also, when I went to the new faculty and staff orientation, I was completely ignored or forgotten when they called new employees to be recognized– as if lecturers are just hired wage slaves not deserving of courtesy. I was annoyed. I think this should be discussed in a wider post about the poor conditions for adjuncts or in a post just on bad manners.

The worst part?

Hilo is a boring place to live unless you are a surfer (and the beaches are not very nice there) or studying volcanoes. Everything (and that’s not much) shuts down at around 9p.m., which leaves you with the only option of 7-11, a very sub-par out of the way diner, or McDonald’s– which I never eat. There is a lot of nature in the surrounding areas, but when you are working really hard and long hours, it’s nice to have something open at night. I was grateful for the manager of my apartment for welcoming me with Aloha spirit and taking me to see the volcanoes and for someone taking me to see Kona before I left the island, but as far as campus community for a lecturer or faculty events– there was absolutely nothing. Given how small a community it is– I would have thought it would be a little more open than just going through the motions and doing the bare minimum, if anything at all. I appreciated the few hallway conversations I had with a couple of the more outgoing or friendlier of my colleagues and the cup of tea with one. The United Nations Association of America Hilo Branch welcomed me with open arms as a member of their board and gave me a great farewell dinner, which was very nice of them. But as far as any structural cohesion or communication from my department, there was none, and I wished that there had been. I remember passing a dinner event and asking the security guard what was happening, and he told me it was a faculty dinner, and I laughed and responded, “I guess I didn’t get the memo.” I didn’t get an invitation.

My personal worst moment in Hilo?

I had food poisoning or a norovirus that hit me one Saturday. I’ll spare you the details, but in dedicated fashion I dragged myself into work on Monday and showed my students an interesting film. I didn’t eat for almost a week. I thought it might have been the crab cakes that I had eaten.

What I took away?

I had good experiences teaching, but I was quite isolated and bored in Hilo. During the summer, I attended the World Congress of Political Science in Montreal (a great city), and at the end of my trip I found myself mentally fatigued– part of that was probably due to the stress of my experience in Hilo, which could actually be any little podunk town in the middle of nowhere USA, except it has a coastline. A few weeks ago, I found out that I was hypothyroid with a TSH level of 9.24 and then 8.35, and this also may have greatly contributed to my feeling tired– in addition to a lot of work, travel, and that experience in the middle of the ocean.

I will write more about my experiences in Hawaii later…to be continued.